01 October 2010

SecDef Speaks About Present, Future

In his speech at Duke University, Secretary Gates discussed the strains of war faced by the military:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned on Wednesday that nearly a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has heightened trends that could ultimately alienate the all-volunteer military from the society it defends.

Gates, in a speech at Duke University, said U.S. military officers and recruits are increasingly drawn from rural and small-town areas of the South and Mountain West, a shift that could divide them politically and culturally from largely urban America.

He also noted that fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan during America's longest period of continuous combat, leaving the wars largely an abstraction for most and further exacerbating the divide between the military and the rest of society.

"With each passing decade, fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or social circle," Gates said, citing a study showing that the share of 18-year-olds with a veteran parent had fallen from 40 percent in 1988 to 18 percent by 2000.

He also slipped in a remark about women eventually serving in the special ops community:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he foresaw a day when the military would lift its ban on women serving in elite special forces.

Although military rules bar women from ground combat, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thrust female troops into firefights and forced US commanders to review the policy.

Gates said he expected the prohibition against women in US Special Operations forces would be phased out in a deliberate manner similar to the way women have been allowed to serve on submarines since earlier this year.

"It will happen, but it will happen in the same very careful way that women in submarines is being done," Gates told an audience of students enrolled in reserve officer training in North Carolina.

As a first step, female officers are being assigned to larger Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines.

The larger vessels make it easier to accommodate female crew members, and each team of women includes a more senior female officer who serves as a "mentor," Gates said.

"My guess is at some point... there'll be a careful step in that direction with Special Operations forces," he said.

By: Brant

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